Flying higher and higher – 100,000

Straight after Hen Harrier Day last Sunday afternoon, first thing Monday morning I was on my way up to what is probably my favourite place, Spurn Bird Observatory. Once again it was a fantastic few days, as is any time that I spend there. With the highlights of Red Kite, Green Sandpiper and Little Stint on my first afternoon, Tuesday with Sooty Shearwater, Wednesday included a special moment of watching a female peregrine soar through thousands of waders on ponds at high tide, and on my last morning (Thursday) was seeing lots of terns, waders and gulls on wetlands including Ruff, Arctic terns and Mediterranean gulls, and watching an Arctic Skua successfully mobbing terns from Seawatching.

After a long journey back, I arrived home and got my internet connection back too. After browsing through what I had missed over the last few days on social media, I was very (VERY) pleasantly surprised to see that the e -petition to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting had just reached 85,000 signatures! Amazing. What made it even better was that this was on the evening before the grouse shooting season started, the Inglorious 12th.

What can I say though? Yesterday morning saw it reach 100,000!

Everyone knows what that means then, a debate in Parliament! We’ve shown that we want one so let’s have it. Unfortunately it would be quite unlikely a ban would be called upon but something it would do which is still very important is continue to boost awareness of what’s happening to our uplands. For politicians too. The next step is going to be very important and a way which will be effective will be to get in touch with your local MP and let them know your opinion. Tell them you want them there when it’s debated and the view you believe needs to be argued. In my latest blog post prior to Hen Harrier Day I shared the letter that I’ve sent to the Secretary of State for DEFRA, Andrea Leadsom, but now I’m going to send one to my local MP, Michael Fabricant – could be interesting!

I think I had some doubts that it wouldn’t reach the 100,000 mark before the 20th September. I’m not sure why though and I had certainly lost them after spending last Sunday up in Edale, Peak District for Hen Harrier Day. The day was packed with nothing less then inspirational talks, chatting to passionate individuals and a very empowering buzz. On the very first Hen Harrier Day two years ago in the Peak District, a few hundred people stood soaked but now look at the result. 100,000. The support is growing and we will win.

And I couldn’t not put in a message to all those who have made this happen and I know will continue to do so until we do win. Those repeatedly sharing the petition on social media, going out of their way to tell everyone and anyone, supporting events, lobbying decision makers and those prominent figures who have worked tirelessly; the likes of Mark Avery and Chris Packham, and those behind the scene at BAWC also The League, plus many, many more.

A weekend to inglorify

Last week Natural England issued a license which permitted the killing of up to 10 buzzards to ‘prevent serious damage to young pheasants’.

Pheasants which are going  to be shot anyway, in the name of fun.

So killing a national treasure so there’s ‘enough’ birds for them to go out and have a jolly. Enough birds out of the 35 million they release into the British countryside each year for this purpose.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 killing buzzards is illegal, as is killing any other wild bird. What makes this an exception though?

After reading Patrick Barkham’s article in The Guardian last night it made me think about what the bigger impact could be. For example, look at the badger cull. Since that was given the go ahead in 2013 incidents of badger persecution have rose and many believe this is due to the green light the slaughter taking place in the South West of England gives. Making it the ‘norm’ to go out and pointlessly kill badgers to please a minority and in the case of the cull; who believe badgers are to blame for passing Bovine TB to cattle. However, just this morning there’s been numerous reports in The Guardian, Independent and on the BBC website that new research has found badgers don’t spread Bovine TB. Well there was no real evidence in the first place to suggest they did but I hope this story gets a lot of coverage and isn’t pushed out of the way.

Anyway, buzzards are an amazing success story. Every time I visit my patch I’m guaranteed to see one or two circling above. Their numbers have boomed over recent years which is fantastic and should be celebrated. Instead though, a minority want to ‘control’ them for their own benefit. Stripping our landscape. It’s terrible and it does make me very angry. This is only one example though.

One thing I decided to do to get all my energy into something was write a letter to our new Secretary of State for DEFRA, Andrea Leadsom. I imagine she won’t get back to me until the end of her summer break but here is what I said.

Dear Ms Leadsom

Congratulations on your new role as Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs. There is no doubt that this is a very important department in government at the moment, especially after the recent Brexit result. I am writing to you today though about an issue which needs addressing to halt the destruction of our landscape due to the draining of well-loved symbols.

The pheasant shooting season begins at the start of October and continues through to February. As a result, so that the season is successful with plenty birds to be shot over 35 million are released into the British countryside even though they are in fact a non-native species. This is done with little or even no valuable contribution to conservation or our landscape and even less so when a gamekeeper is given a license to kill national treasures for the sake of a bit of fun for a minority. 

Natural England’s recent decision (29th July 2016) to issue a license that permits the ‘control’ of up to 10 buzzards to ‘prevent serious damage to young pheasants’ is of serious concern. First of all, it is very ironic. Why must buzzards be killed to protect birds that will be slaughtered in great numbers just for the sake of a minority to have a bit of fun. Buzzards are a bird which has climbed back from the brink and are now an icon across the British countryside. They matter much more than the interests of a few.

A ridiculous point of this license is that its been made clear that the control can only be of ‘up to’ 10 buzzards. I find it difficult to understand how this will work regarding how it is monitored to ensure that only up to ten birds are shot. Some may also argue that 10 birds is a very small proportion and would have no damaging effect on their overall population but the fact that the license was issued is a worry in its own. What is going to stop the same gamekeeper from being granted the same license next year or now that the ice has been broken, other gamekeepers from different pheasant shoots. Just like on grouse moors where driven grouse shooting is practised, we could see national treasures wiped from pockets of our countryside.

A similar comparison is the badger cull. Since the cull first began badger persecution incidents have increased across England and not just in the South West where the slaughter is taking place. This indicates that those wanting to either eradicate badgers from their land or for entertainment purposes are being given the green light to do so. As well as this, the persecution of these animals is horrendous and totally unacceptable within today’s society. We live in the 21st century, not back in dark ages.

Obviously badger persecution or disturbance of any kind is illegal. Unfortunately, it still happens though and so does other methods of wildlife crime including raptor persecution. A bird of prey that has suffered unimaginably from being illegally ‘controlled’ for a minorities interest is the Hen Harrier. This year there has been only three breeding pairs when in fact there should be over 300 pairs in England. It is a disgrace and what’s worse is that DEFRA are not doing anything to stop it. Instead on the 12th of August grouse moors will be rampaged by shooters in the hope of a successful year after their ‘hard work’ to prepare. This ‘hard work’ included shooting our birds of prey and trapping wildlife they like to call ‘pests’, burning peat which is in fact contributing to climate change and increasing flooding downstream, and overall sucking our upland areas dry of any life.

Your Hen Harrier plan isn’t working and won’t work. Our Hen Harriers don’t have time on their side and need big change now. This year two radio tagged birds disappeared, both over grouse moors.

Please take a look at the petition to end driven grouse shooting, signed by a majority – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003

Yours sincerely,

Georgia Locock

In the letter I couldn’t not include about what’s happening with our Hen Harriers. I really hope she already knows about the danger they’re in but maybe not the true trouble. This also fits in well with me writing my blog about Hen Harrier Day this year. The third year, in fact! Which is amazing, and the growth since that rainy day in the Peak District is also amazing with 12 events taking place across the UK, more people getting involved, more people aware and most of all, more change.

It’s also been incredible to see so much going on. From Mark Avery’s petition, to short films from Chris Packham, The League Against Cruel Sports, boycotting of supermarkets, many individuals doing their bit and all (mainly) from the power of social media. Of which is going to be very important over the weekend with many tweeting, hashtags, images, videos and much more circling round. As the title of this blog says, it’s a weekend to inglorify driven grouse shooting by spreading the truth and clearly stating why it must end.

I’m looking forward to it and will be up at the Peak event in Edale on Sunday.

Below are some more links to take a look at.

Thunderclap (1) – https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/45248-inglorious-12th

Thunderclap (2) – https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/44802-ban-driven-grouse-shooting

Mark Avery’s petition – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003

The League Against Cruel Sports Crowdfunder – http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bangrouseshooting

The truth of driven grouse shooting videos – http://www.chrispackham.co.uk/news/the-real-price-of-grouse-traps

Hen Harrier Day information – http://henharrierday.org/2016-events.html

United in a weekend for Hen Harriers

This weekend was superb. If you went to a Hen Harrier event you’ll know what I’m on about but if not then make sure you do next year! If I were to sum it up in five words, which is difficult, they would be very inspiring, exciting, lots of motivation, fervent and uplifting.

But why am I using such positive words to describe events which are about a depressing and serious matter? Well, when you hear a lot of negative stories, including the five Hen Harriers which disappeared (yeah, OK) this year, an event like this makes you feel incredibly positive as you see so many people joined together showing their support and feeling the same as yourself. Even though I knew all of these people existed and most of the country, a part from SOME, are and would (if only they knew about what goes on) be opposed and saddened by ongoings of wildlife crime everywhere including upon the upland moors, again it was very positive to be there, see it with my own eyes, and to see that change is definitely happening and that we will win.

Whether it’s the fact many species, including raptors, are being illegally persecuted to protect ones own interest, a bird of prey is being pushed to extinction,  habitats are being damaged or the burning is having a role to play with global warming and flooding, the activity of driven grouse shooting upon upland moors needs to end. This was a key message expressed by all of the speakers at the Hen Harrier events I went too. Along with this the fact that we’re right, we’re backed by science and we deserve justice.

If you’d read a few of my latest posts, follow me on Twitter or even saw me there yourself I spent my Hen Harrier Day up at the Goyt Valley near Buxton, Derbyshire.  As well as this I went along to the Hen Harrier Eve event at The Palace Hotel in Buxton on Saturday. 

When we arrived in Buxton on Saturday afternoon, whilst walking around waiting for the evening event to start, I bumped into quite a few people who were going. Either wearing their t-shirt or I knew who they were already. We even got sat next to two ladies going to the events when we went for something to eat along with some others at our B&B the following morning. Hen Harrier supporters had taken over Buxton!

But this was great! I often see this when I go on street marches, all the people passing by take an interest by what it says on their t-shirt or placard. This also had the same effect at the Goyt Valley when walkers, runners and cyclists passed, along with at the afternoon event in the Pavilion Gardens, Buxton. I heard quite a few people passing and muttering ‘what’s with the black t-shirts’ and so on.

Once at The Palace Hotel for the Hen Harrier Eve event it was great to have a chat with some old and new faces before the talks began. Overall there were a variety of things talked about by each speaker along with a variety of speakers.

First to speak was Mark Avery who was one of the organisers and introduced the evening. He has also had a massive impact on the fight to ban driven grouse shooting with the work he’s done, including his recent book Inglorious and the ban driven grouse shooting petition he set up again this year after last years success of it reaching over 10,000 signatures. So far this year the petition has over 11,000, you can sign it by clicking here.

He was followed by the other organiser, Susan Cross, and also Gordon MacLellan who presented some literature about the Peak District and Buxton, and also included context about Hen Harriers. After this the RSPB’s skydancer video was introduced by Amanda Miller and CEO RSPB Mike Clark said a few words about their hard work on helping the Hen Harrier. It was brilliant to have two people from the RSPB talk, along with Jeff Knot (RSPB) speak at Hen Harrier Day. As well as the RSPB, Jo Smith who is the CEO Derbyshire Wildlife Trust also spoke at the Hen Harrier Day event.

Next was Mark Cocker in conversation with Jeremy Deller. Jeremy Deller is a Turner Prize winner (2004) and has produced such art work as ‘A good day for cyclists’ which shows a massive Hen Harrier clutching a blood red Range Rover in its talons. Whilst in conversation with Mark Cocker he spoke about a lot of his work, including this piece, which was very interesting.

Jeremy Deller, the artist featured in the British pavilion, had one of the most talked about installations at the Venice Biennale preview, attended by critics, curators and collectors from around the world. Photo by mary Louise Schumacher

Then after the interval Mark Cocker gave his own talk. This was about birds of prey in culture across the world with references to his book. As well as Hen Harriers.

Next to speak was Findlay Wilde who said a few words about Hen Harriers before going on to how he made two new brilliant models. One was a grouse butt and another was a massive bottle of poison. With this he showed a video mash-up of how he did so with a sound track created by his younger brother, Harley.  He also announced how he’d persuaded Ecotricity to support satellite tagging of Hen Harriers next year.

Then there was another video mash-up about the adventures of Henry the Hen Harrier around the UK which was created by Phil Walton from Birders Against Wildlife Crime. If you don’t already follow Henry on Twitter then please do at @HenryHenHarrier.

Last, but one, to speak was Chris Packham who was superb and inspiring as usual. He spoke very passionately and expressed his anger of persecution of Hen Harriers, the huge decline of wildlife, Cecil the Lion and much more.

To finish of the evening of talks, there was a quick announcement from Charlie Moores (BAWC) about the exciting arrangements of the next day, Hen Harrier Day.

As I walked up to the venue of Hen Harrier Day at 10am the Hen Harrier thunderclap went out. This reached almost 5.7 million people which was just amazing, lets hope all those people took note of what they read. The thunderclap read…

The location of Hen Harrier Day, in Buxton, was perfect. As the speakers said what they wanted to say you could gaze over onto the moorland. When they spoke you could just picture their dream, and your dream, of what they want that area to look like one day. You could visualise the aim. Along with this, at this location Hen Harriers have been spotted here in the past.

However the image of what we’d all love the upland before us to look like was somewhat shattered and taken over by what it really looked like at that moment. Not a bird in sight, it looked dead and you could see the areas where it’s been burnt for intensive driven grouse shooting. But this brought no one down, in fact it gave more motivation. Along with the inspiring and wise words from those who spoke and being surrounded by those who care immensely.

Speaking at the event was Charlie Moores, Mark Avery, Chris Packham, Jeff Knot (RSPB) and Jo Smith (The Wildlife Trust). The talks started about 11am and ended just before 1pm. Then after that many still gathered, chatted and after a while some headed down to Buxton Pavilion Gardens as there were a few stalls, along with lots of interest from people passing by.

As I’ve mentioned, and you can probably tell, it was a fantastic weekend as I’m sure were all the other events happening around the country and I look forward to next year. It feels very odd today after such an exciting weekend! But also on a more serious note, lets hope yesterday made an actual difference and this continues as we won’t be stopping until it does.

Here’s another tweet from Birders Against Wildlife Crime which sums it all up very nicely.

Here are some photos from the weekend.

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